On January 9 2014, 300,000 people in the Charleston, West Virginia area were directed not to use there licorice smelling tap water… touching off one of the largest acute drinking water disasters in US history.
Freedom Industries, Inc. and it’s staff stored tens of thousands of gallons of a coal washing liquid within feet from the Elk River. Their storage tanks were 1.5 miles upstream of a regional drinking water treatment facility’s intake. Because Freedom Industries and its staff failed to maintain their above ground storage tanks (catastrophic corrosion occurred), more than 10,000 gallons of a liquid mixture of compounds called Crude MCHM and Stripped PPH entered the water supply on or near January 9.
The water company, West Virginia American Water, chose to draw this tainted water into it’s water treatment facility, increased their chemical dosages in an attempt to remove the chemicals so they could avoid shutting down their water system. This could have resulted in water distribution system depressurization.
Late afternoon on January 9, the water company discovered their treatment approach was ineffective and the Do Not Use drinking water order was issued by the Governor with support of the water company. Several hours later President Obama declared the incident a federal disaster.
It was Unprecedented
The scale of the acute drinking water contamination incident was unprecedented.
Nine counties were affected, 15% of the West Virginia’s population. Businesses and schools were shutdown, hospitals and other critical care facilities were faced without distributed drinking water.
Contaminated water resided in more than 2,200 miles of water pipes, more than 100 drinking water storage tanks, and upwards of 90,000 building plumbing systems. Residents sought medical attention at hospitals and from their physicians after experiencing chemical burns and inhalation issues.
The main ingredient in the spilled liquid was 4-MCHM, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, but a number of other ingredients were known to be present as well.
The MSDS’s which responders relied upon for decisions, found to be inaccurate later on, were missing key health impact data and many of the chemicals spilled were not listed on any MSDS. [12 days after the spill Freedom Industries would disclose additional chemicals being spilled into the Elk River that they failed to notify anyone about.]
Arrival in West Virginia and the National Science Foundation
After my volunteer student and faculty team drove from Alabama into the area in January 2014 to help the community respond we quickly realized the scale of the disaster. It was fate that we were able to team up the West Virginia Clean Water Hub (Rob Goodwin) and People Concerned About Chemical Safety (Maya Nye) to help residents decontaminate their homes, testing their water, and ultimately redesigning the flushing method issued by the responders.
By chance we crossed paths with Krysta Bryson, a PhD student at Ohio State University, and also a West Virginian who’s family lived in the affected area. She, on her own dime, began documenting the incident as well as the experiences of residents with video, cell phone audio recorder, and camera. We teamed up with her and she since established a West Virginia Water Crisis blog that still is updated today. Check it out here.
Upon returning to our home we were inundated with emails and telephone calls from residents affected by the spill. Together, we created a blog post with answers to common questions and simultaneously published it on Krista Bryson’s blog. The Q&A does not include every question we received, but the most common. We continue to receive questions.. in March 2015 we received questions from residents affected by the spill.
In January, the US National Science Foundation too recognized the unprecedented scientific need, saw the impact firsthand, and stepped in. They providing emergency funding to my team on the ground, Krista Bryson and her advisor at Ohio State University. NSF also authorized rapid research projects at West Virginia University, Ohio State University, University of Memphis, and Virginia Tech. Below is a video that describes some of the research that we have conducted.
The NSF rapid funding has enabled my team and collaborators to assist West Virginians, the utilities, and State and Federal agencies number of ways. We have made a variety of discoveries (some described below) and have several more in the pipeline. Without NSF funding I am pretty sure that no other agency would have stepped in to fund the necessary science for this disaster.
NSF is funded by Federal tax dollars (appropriated by the legislative branch). Without this funding I can assure you many questions West Virginians asked would never have been answered based on a review of past chemical spill responses. Our discoveries have the potential to help Americans across the US be better protected and prepared for a similar (or more severe) event. Our results also have direct relevance to communities affected by chemical spills outside the US. Science has no borders.
The following people and organizations have contributed in some way to our NSF funded research. This includes assistance conducting our investigation, feedback about our results, scientific input about testing or results, and clarification about events or data.
Residents and businesses affected by the spill
Purdue University: Prof. Andrew Whelton, Karen Casteloes, Xiangning Huang
University of South Alabama: Prof. Kevin White, Prof. Rajarshi Dey, Prof. Alex Beebe, Prof. Anne Boettcher, LaKia McMillan, Keven Kelley, Matt Connell, Jeff Gill, Caroline Novy, Mahmoud Alkhout, Frederick Avera, Coleman Miller
University of New Mexico: Prof. Jose Manuel Cerrato
Kanawha Charleston Health Department: Dr. Rahul Gupta
People Concerned About Chemical Safety: Maya Nye
West Virginia Clean Water Hub: Rob Goodwin
Downstream Strategies, Inc.: Evan Hansen
US Chemical Safety Board
West Virginia American Water Company
Eastman Chemical Company
Charleston Sanitary Board
State of West Virginia
Ohio State University: Krista Bryson
West Virginia University: Prof. Jennifer Weidhass
Metropolitan University of Denver: Prof. Randi Brazeau
AWWA: Alan Roberson, Dr. Kevin Morley
National Resources Defense Council: Erik Olson
West Virginia’s Government Stepped Forward Requesting Assistance
When were were in Charleston conducting water sampling and helping residents flush their plumbing systems, we approached the Governor’s staff with our findings that residents were becoming ill by flushing and that decisions being made were not based on science. Shortly after the NSF stepped in the West Virginia Governor’s office then contacted my team for assistance. In response, I called some good friends who recommended I contact Jeffrey Rosen, president of Corona Environmental Consulting LLC. After a brief conversation he and I flew to West Virginia, met with the State of West Virginia executive staff, and formed the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project (WVTAP).
WVTAP consisted of scientists and engineers from the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel. Team members had expertise in toxicology, risk assessment, statistics, environmental chemistry and microbiology, water treatment and distribution, analytical chemistry, environmental monitoring and sampling, sensory analysis, and media relations. More importantly though, this “project” was intended to answer critical questions West Virginians were demanding be answered regarding drinking water safety, and odor that no state or federal agency had acted upon before.
While WVTAP’s work ended in June 2014, my university team has continued it’s efforts and many more researchers have stepped-in funded through various agencies.
Several other organizations initiated efforts help understand the chemical spill’s impact. For example, the United States National Toxicology Program initiated federally funded research to determine the health impacts associated with exposure to several of the chemicals in West Virginia’s drinking water. The United States Geological Survey reported on their drinking water and river water sampling efforts. Various universities have published chemical modeling and laboratory testing research on some of the chemicals in the drinking water and river. These results are explained below along those from with many other organizations.
A Few Major Discoveries from the Chemical Spill (so far…)
Numerous scientific reports have been released by various organizations since January 2014 regarding the chemical spill in West Virginia. Here are some quick observations of their findings. I did not include any of the new discoveries my team will release in the next couple months.
- The chemical methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate, an ingredient in the spilled liquid, was found in the drinking water by the US Geological Survey research team, but unlike the other chemicals 4-MCHM, PPH, and DiPPH, no safe drinking water exposure level was established for this compound. There is no toxicology data for this compound and no agency is investigating its toxicity.
- Toxicologists assumed the toxicity of Crude MCHM is the same as the toxicity of analytical standard pure 4-MCHM. The analytical standard however has a different trans- cis- isomer ratio than the crude MCHM. Researchers have recently discovered the volatility and potential for each isomer to sorb to organic materials differs substantially.
- Chemicals present in crude MCHM (one of the two major liquids present in the spilled liquid) volatilize into the air when contaminated drinking water is at room temperature and moreso when it is heated. (Flushing hot water from a plumbing system would expose the resident to higher chemical levels than cold water flushing). No inhalation toxicity testing has been conducted.
- The plumbing system contaminated water flushing guidance issued by the water company and approved by the State and Federal agencies ignored the health risks associated with inhalation exposure. As a result, residents became ill by following guidance issued to them by the agencies responding to the spill.
- Plumbing system flushing did not reduce 4-MCHM levels for all homes. It is unclear how this guidance was designed as there is no documentation for it’s design. The responders stated objective of plumbing system flushing was to reduce 4-MCHM below 1000 parts per billion. Based on our testing, certain homes were more likely not be decontaminated compared to others [results will be coming soon].
- You can detect the licorice odor when contaminated drinking water contained less 0.15 parts per billion concentration of Crude MCHM and about 8 parts per billion of 4-MCHM.
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 4-MCHM screening level of 1000 parts per billion was inadequate and did not protect public health for all populations under all water use conditions.
- The State of West Virginia drinking water screening level (health limit) of 10 parts per billion for 4-MCHM was adequate to protect public health for all populations under all water use conditions.
- 4-MCHM was detected 400 miles downstream after the spill on the Ohio River. Water utilities 600 miles downstream took preventative measures.
- Despite a variety of chemicals being spilled from the Freedom Industries tank site, river water testing did not consider any chemical other than 4-MCHM.
- One month after the spill resident’s drinking water still contained 4-MCHM at low levels because the water company filters remained contaminated. Filters were replaced more than 2.5 months after the spill.
- At high doses, animals exposed to ingredients of the spilled liquid experience acute health impacts.
- There are still upwards of 50 lawsuits against Freedom Industries, Inc. (company who’s tanks ruptured), West Virginia American Water (water company), Eastman Chemical Company (chemical supplier).
- The water company is considering installing online chemical analysis monitoring equipment for the Elk River.
- The US Attorney is still investigating.
- The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is still investigating.
- Several former Freedom Industries employees have been indicted by the federal government and court dates are scheduled for 2015.
LIST OF PRINT RESOURCES DESCRIBING VARIOUS ASPECTS OF THE SPILL’S IMPACT BY US AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS
Brief abstracts have been pasted below. Download the full reports at the links provided.
WEST VIRGINIA TESTING ASSESSMENT PROJECT (WVTAP)
The State of West Virginia funded an independent science and engineering research team to assist them in February 2014. There were three major objectives to their project: Objective #1 was to convene an international panel of experts to examine the West Virginia safety factor applied to their 10 part per billion (ppb) MCHM drinking water screening level. These individuals were be health risk assessment experts recruited from the scientific community. Objective #2 was to determine the drinking water odor threshold for MCHM. This action was important because it was possible people could detect MCHM odors at concentrations less than sensitive laboratory instruments can detect. This effort was be completed by some of the most well-known drinking water odor experts in the world. Objective #3 was to conduct a focused residential drinking water sampling field study. The collected data were then used to support the design of a larger more comprehensive program for the nine counties affected.
WVTAP Final Report, appendices, press releases, and statements. Access this report here.
US NATIONAL TOXICOLOGY PROGRAM
In response to the request by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for additional toxicology data on chemicals associated with the Elk River spill in West Virginia, NTP is conducting a number of studies of relatively short duration to provide information relevant to the potential exposures of the Charleston residents. Access their data here.
High throughput screening: Assays to derive information about cellular and molecular targets and use for predicting potential biological effects. Update from Dec. 2014. Structure activity relationship: A computational assessment that uses chemical structure to predict toxicological and biological properties. Update from Dec. 2014. Bacterial mutagenicity: Short-term tests to evaluate DNA damage in the bacteria S. typhimurium and E. coli caused by exposure to a chemical. Ongoing as of April 2015. Zebrafish developmental effects: Short-term study to evaluate developmental effects in a vertebrate model system. Ongoing as of April 2015. Nematode (Caenorhabditis elegans) toxicity: Short-term study to evaluate chemical effects over the life span of the organisms. Update from Mar. 2015. Rat toxicogenomic (5-day): Short-term toxicity studies that identify subtle effects of a chemical on molecular processes in the liver and kidney and examine toxic effects in blood and damage to DNA (genetic toxicity). Update from Feb. 2015. Irritation/ sensitization: Assays to evaluate the ability of chemicals to cause skin inflammation by directly damaging cells (irritation) or by inducing an immune response known as allergic hypersensitivitiy or contact allergy. Ongoing as of April 2015. Rat prenatal developmental toxicity (teratology): A study where rats are exposed to a chemical throughout pregnancy to determine if it produces adverse effects on the developing fetus. Update from Dec. 2014.
AFTER ACTION REVIEW CONDUCTED BY THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA
After Action Review, Emergency Response to January 9, 2014 Freedom Industries Chemical Leak. Peter Markum, Jimmy Gianato, James Hoyer. State of West Virginia. Access this report here.
PEER-REVIEWED JOURNAL ARTICLES
Residential Tap Water Contamination Following the Freedom Industries Chemical Spill: Perceptions, Water Quality, and Health Impacts. Andrew J. Whelton, LaKia McMillan, Matt Connell, Keven M. Kelley, Jeff P. Gill , Kevin D. White, Rahul Gupta, Rajarshi Dey, and Caroline Novy (Purdue University, University of South Alabama, Kanawha Charleston Health Department). Environmental Science and Technology. 2015, 49 (2), pp 813–823.
(DOWNLOAD FOR FREE, Open Access) Access this report here.
During January 2014, an industrial solvent contaminated West Virginia’s Elk River and 15% of the state population’s tap water. A rapid in-home survey and water testing was conducted 2 weeks following the spill to understand resident perceptions, tap water chemical levels, and premise plumbing flushing effectiveness. Water odors were detected in all 10 homes sampled before and after premise plumbing flushing. Survey and medical data indicated flushing caused adverse health impacts. Bench-scale experiments and physiochemical property predictions showed flushing promoted chemical volatilization, and contaminants did not appreciably sorb into cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) pipe. Flushing reduced tap water 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (4-MCHM) concentrations within some but not all homes. 4-MCHM was detected at unflushed (<10 to 420 μg/L) and flushed plumbing systems (<10 to 96 μg/L) and sometimes concentrations differed among faucets within each home. All waters contained less 4-MCHM than the 1000 μg/L Centers for Disease Control drinking water limit, but one home exceeded the 120 μg/L drinking water limit established by independent toxicologists. Nearly all households refused to resume water use activities after flushing because of water safety concerns. Science based flushing protocols should be developed to expedite recovery, minimize health impacts, and reduce concentrations in homes when future events occur.
The crude MCHM chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va. Rosen, Jeffrey S.; Whelton, Andrew J.; McGuire, Michael J.; Clancy, Jennifer L.; Bartrand, Timothy; Eaton, Andrew; Patterson, Jacqueline; Dourson, Michael; Nance, Patricia; Adams, Craig. Journal of the American Water Works Association. September 2014. Volume / Number: 106, Number 9, 65-74. Access this report here.
The Elk River spill is a call to action for all water utilities with hazardous chemicals in close proximity to their source water. Regardless of the regulations and responsibilities of state and federal regulators, water utilities have responsibilities and liabilities that should prompt action to identify possible chemical threats.
An unwanted licorice odor in a West Virginia water supply. McGuire, Michael J.; Rosen, Jeffrey; Whelton, Andrew J.; Suffet, I.H. Journal of the American Water Works Association. June 2014. Volume / Number: 106, Number 6, 72-82. Access this report here.
After the headline-making chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River in January 2014 affected nine counties and left residents with a licorice odor in their tap water, an expert-panel study was conducted to better understand the spill’s odor characteristics.
Self-Reported Household Impacts of Large-Scale Chemical Contamination of the Public Water Supply, Charleston, West Virginia, USA. Charles P. Schade , Nasandra Wright, Rahul Gupta, David A. Latif, Ayan Jha, John Robinson. PLOS One, 2015, Published: May 7, 2015 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126744. Access the report here.
A January 2014 industrial accident contaminated the public water supply of approximately 300,000 homes in and near Charleston, West Virginia (USA) with low levels of a strongly-smelling substance consisting principally of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM). The ensuing state of emergency closed schools and businesses. Hundreds of people sought medical care for symptoms they related to the incident. We surveyed 498 households by telephone to assess the episode’s health and economic impact as well as public perception of risk communication by responsible officials. Thirty two percent of households (159/498) reported someone with illness believed to be related to the chemical spill, chiefly dermatological or gastrointestinal symptoms. Respondents experienced more frequent symptoms of psychological distress during and within 30 days of the emergency than 90 days later. Sixty-seven respondent households (13%) had someone miss work because of the crisis, missing a median of 3 days of work. Of 443 households reporting extra expenses due to the crisis, 46% spent less than $100, while 10% spent over $500 (estimated average about $206). More than 80% (401/485) households learned of the spill the same day it occurred. More than 2/3 of households complied fully with “do not use” orders that were issued; only 8% reported drinking water against advice. Household assessments of official communications varied by source, with local officials receiving an average “B” rating, whereas some federal and water company communication received a “D” grade. More than 90% of households obtained safe water from distribution centers or stores during the emergency. We conclude that the spill had major economic impact with substantial numbers of individuals reporting incident-related illnesses and psychological distress. Authorities were successful supplying emergency drinking water, but less so with risk communication.
Toxicity Assessment of 4-Methyl-1-cyclohexanemethanol and Its Metabolites in Response to a Recent Chemical Spill in West Virginia, USA. Jiaqi Lan , Man Hu , Ce Gao , Akram Alshawabkeh , and April Z. Gu. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2015, 49 (10), pp 6284–6293. Access this report here.
The large-scale chemical spill on January 9, 2014 from coal processing and cleaning storage tanks of Freedom Industries in Charleston affected the drinking water supply to 300,000 people in Charleston, West Virginia metropolitan, while the short-term and long-term health impacts remain largely unknown and need to be assessed and monitored. There is a lack of publically available toxicological information for the main contaminant 4-methyl-1-cyclohexanemethanol (4-MCHM). Particularly, little is known about 4-MCHM metabolites and their toxicity. This study reports timely and original results of the mechanistic toxicity assessment of 4-MCHM and its metabolites via a newly developed quantitative toxicogenomics approach, employing proteomics analysis in yeast cells and transcriptional analysis in human cells. These results suggested that, although 4-MCHM is considered only moderately toxic based on the previous limited acute toxicity evaluation, 4-MCHM metabolites were likely more toxic than 4-MCHM in both yeast and human cells, with different toxicity profiles and potential mechanisms. In the yeast library, 4-MCHM mainly induced chemical stress related to transmembrane transport and transporter activity, while 4-MCHM metabolites of S9 mainly induced oxidative stress related to antioxidant activity and oxidoreductase activity. With human A549 cells, 4-MCHM mainly induced DNA damage-related biomarkers, which indicates that 4-MCHM is related to genotoxicity due to its DNA damage effect on human cells and therefore warrants further chronic carcinogenesis evaluation.
Consumer panel estimates of odor thresholds for crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol. McGuire, Michael J.; Suffet, I.H. (Mel); Rosen, Jeffrey. Journal of the American Water Works Association. October 2014. Volume / Number: 106, Number 10, E445-E458. Access this report here.
On Jan. 9, 2014, a spill of “crude” 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) into the Elk River in West Virginia contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people. The crude MCHM caused an intense licorice odor in the drinking water that supplied the area in and around Charleston, W.Va. A sensitive analytical method developed by a commercial laboratory was used to verify the concentrations of crude MCHM presented to a consumer panel selected using specific criteria. The method used for the panel studies was ASTM E679-04, which has been used to determine other odor thresholds in water. The odor threshold and odor recognition concentrations for crude MCHM in water were estimated by the consumer panel to be 0.55 and 7.4 µg/L, respectively. Two estimates of the odor objection concentration were 7.7 and 8.8 µg/L.
Tale of Two Isomers: Complexities of Human Odor Perception for cis- and trans-4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol from the Chemical Spill in West Virginia. Daniel L. Gallagher, Katherine Phetxumphou, Elizabeth Smiley, and Andrea M. Dietrich (Virginia Tech). Environmental Science & Technology, 2015, 49 (3), pp 1319–1327. Access this report here.
Application of gas chromatography with mass spectrometric and human olfactory “sniffer” detectors reveals the nature of odorous chemicals from an industrial chemical spill. Crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (4-MCHM) spilled in a river and then contaminated drinking water and air for over 300000 consumers living in West Virginia. Olfactory gas chromatography allows investigators to independently measure the odor of chemical components in a mixture. Crude 4-MCHM is comprised of several major cyclohexane components, four of which have distinct isomer pairs. The cis- and trans-4-MCHM isomers are the only components to have distinct odors at the concentrations used in this study. The trans-4-MCHM is the dominant odorant with descriptors of “licorice” and “sweet”. Trans-4-MCHM has an air odor threshold concentration of 0.060 ppb-v (95% CI: 0.040–0.091). The odor threshold concentrations are not influenced by gender or age but are lower by a factor of 5 for individuals with prior exposure compared to naïve subjects. Individual trans-4-MCHM odor threshold concentrations vary by more than a factor of 100. The cis-4-MCHM isomer has approximately a 2000-fold higher odor threshold concentration, different descriptors, and an even wider individual response range.
Partitioning, Aqueous Solubility, and Dipole Moment Data for cis- and trans-(4-Methylcyclohexyl) methanol, Principal Contaminants of the West Virginia Chemical Spill. Andrea M. Dietrich, Ashly Thomas, Yang Zhao, Elizabeth Smiley, Narasimhamurthy Shanaiah, Megan Ahart, Katherine A. Charbonnet, Nathan J. DeYonker, William A. Alexander, and Daniel L. Gallagher (Virginia Tech and University of Memphis). Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Access this report here.
In 2014, the U.S. National Response Center recorded more than 30000 incidents of oil spills, chemical releases, or maritime security issues, including crude (4-methylcyclohexyl) methanol (MCHM) that contaminated river and drinking water in West Virginia. This research yielded physicochemical partitioning data for the two major compounds released in West Virginia, cis- and trans-(4-methylcyclohexyl)methanol. Octanol–water partition coefficients (KOW) were 225 for cis-4-MCHM and 291 for trans-4-MCHM. The aqueous solubility for total 4-MCHM was 2250 mg/L at 23 °C; solubilities of individual isomers were dependent on their mole fractions. The cis isomer was more soluble and less well sorbed to activated carbon than the trans isomer, consistent with its lower KOW. The partition behavior is supported by a larger computed solvated dipole moment for the cis form than for the trans form at the MP2 aug-cc-pwCVDZ SMD level of theory. Different partition properties would result in the differential fate and transport of cis- and trans-4-MCHM in aqueous environments.
Investigation of MCHM transport mechanisms and fate: Implications for coal beneficiation. Y. Thomas He, Aaron Noble, Paul Ziemkiewicz (West Virginia University). Chemosphere. Volume 127, May 2015, Pages 158–163. Access this report here.
4-Methyl cyclohexane methanol (MCHM) is a flotation reagent often used in fine coal beneficiation and notably involved in the January 9, 2014 Elk River chemical spill in Charleston, WV. This study investigates the mechanisms controlling the transport and fate of MCHM in coal beneficiation plants and surrounding environments. Processes such as volatilization, sorption, and leaching were evaluated through laboratory batch and column experiments. The results indicate volatilization and sorption are important mechanisms which influence the removal of MCHM from water, with sorption being the most significant removal mechanism over short time scales (<1 h). Additionally, leaching experiments show both coal and tailings have high affinity for MCHM, and this reagent does not desorb readily. Overall, the results from these experiments indicate that MCHM is either volatilized or sorbed during coal beneficiation, and it is not likely to transport out of coal beneficiation plant. Thus, use of MCHM in coal beneficiation plant is not likely to pose threat to either surface or groundwater under normal operating conditions.
Determination of (4-methylcyclohexyl)methanol isomers by heated purge-and-trap GC/MS in water samples from the 2014 Elk River, West Virginia, chemical spill. William T. Foreman, Donna L. Rose, Douglas B. Chambers, Angela S. Crain, Lucinda K. Murtagh, Haresh Thakellapalli, Kung K. Wang (USGS and West Virginia University). Chemosphere. 2014.
(DOWNLOAD FOR FREE, Open Access) Access this report here.
A heated purge-and-trap gas chromatography/mass spectrometry method was used to determine the cis- and trans-isomers of (4-methylcyclohexyl)methanol (4-MCHM), the reported major component of the Crude MCHM/Dowanol™ PPh glycol ether material spilled into the Elk River upriver from Charleston, West Virginia, on January 9, 2014. The trans-isomer eluted first and method detection limits were 0.16-μg L−1trans-, 0.28-μg L−1cis-, and 0.4-μg L−1 Total (total response of isomers) 4-MCHM. Estimated concentrations in the spill source material were 491-g L−1trans- and 277-g L−1cis-4-MCHM, the sum constituting 84% of the source material assuming its density equaled 4-MCHM. Elk River samples collected ⩽ 3.2 km downriver from the spill on January 15 had low (⩽2.9 μg L−1 Total) 4-MCHM concentrations, whereas the isomers were not detected in samples collected 2 d earlier at the same sites. Similar 4-MCHM concentrations (range 4.2–5.5 μg L−1 Total) occurred for samples of the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky, on January 17, ∼630 km downriver from the spill. Total 4-MCHM concentrations in Charleston, WV, office tap water decreased from 129 μg L−1 on January 27 to 2.2 μg L−1 on February 3, but remained detectable in tap samples through final collection on February 25 indicating some persistence of 4-MCHM within the water distribution system. One isomer of methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate was detected in all Ohio River and tap water samples, and both isomers were detected in the source material spilled.
Modeling the Fate and Transport of a Chemical Spill in the Elk River, West Virginia. Bahadur, R. and Samuels, W (Center for Water Science and Engineering). (2014). Journal of Environmental Engineering. Access this report here.
On January 9, 2014, an estimated 37,854 L (10,000 gal.) of 4-methycyclohexane methanol (MCHM) and propylene glycol phenyl ether, solvents used in coal processing, leaked from a ruptured container into the Elk River. The spill, just 1.61 km (1 mi) upstream from a water-treatment plant, forced officials to ban residents and businesses in nine West Virginia counties from using the water for anything other than flushing toilets or fighting fires. An estimated 300,000 West Virginia residents were affected by the spill. This paper reports on the modeling efforts undertaken to forecast time of travel and concentration of MCHM as the plume traveled downstream toward the Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) intake. The issues addressed include the flow regime, source term describing the spill event, use of real-time and forecast streamflow, and comparison of model results with observations at Charleston (West Virginia), Huntington (West Virginia), and the GCWW intake. The incident-command tool for drinking-water protection (ICWater) was used to model time of travel and concentration of MCHM. Downstream tracing was initiated at the spill site to forecast the location of the leading edge, peak concentration, and trailing edge of the plume for drinking-water intakes as far downstream as 402 km (250 mi).
Modeling of the Elk river spill 2014. Lucien Stolze, Federico Volpin (Technical University of Denmark). Environmental Science and Pollution Research. March 2015. Access this report here.
A dispersion-advection model was used to simulate the Elk river chemical spill 2014. The numerical and analytical solutions were used to predict the concentrations of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) at the water treatment plants located along the Elk and Kanawha rivers. The results are of similar magnitude as measured concentrations although a time-lag was found between modeled and measured plume arrival likely due to accumulation of systematic errors. Considering MCHM guidelines for drinking water, the spill represented a serious health threat through the water up taken by the treatment plant located on the Elk river and it also constituted a risk of contamination for the drinking water produced by treatment plants located on the Kanawha river.
Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication: Lessons from the Elk River Spill. John Manuel. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2014 Aug; 122(8): A214–A219. Access this here.
Re-Emergence of Emerging Contaminants. Jerald L. Schnoor. Environmental Science & Technology 2014, 48 (19), 11019–11020. Access this here.
Responding to Crisis: The West Virginia Chemical Spill. William J. Cooper. Environmental Science & Technology. 2014, 48 (6), pp 3095–3095. Access this here.
Chemical Spill in West Virginia Triggers More Studies to Understand Contaminants. Randy Showstack. Transactions American Geophysical Union. Volume 95, Issue 7, pages 61–63, 18 February 2014. Access this here.
The Elk River MCHM Spill: A Cast Study in Managing Environmental Risks. Lucas Rojas Mendoza. InsuranceNewsNet. May 6, 2015. Access this here.
Questions and comments about this post should be directed to Professor Andrew Whelton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—This post may be updated as more information becomes available—